With this week's announcement of changes to their Adult Content Policy for Blogger, it seems Google has undercut its noble mission “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful” with an unwritten footnote: '...unless we, Google, as the arbitrators of truth and value, deem any such information does not offer a substantial public benefit. A key advantage of being one of the most powerful companies in the world is that we get to decide for the global community what does and does not benefit them.'
In our last post, Ti and I talked about how delighted we were that people were starting to have more open conversations about sex and sexuality. Now Google has decided to become the arbiter of which of those conversations get to be held in public.
They say “Note: We’ll still allow nudity if the content offers a substantial public benefit. For example, in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts.”? Huh?! Does this mean Sergey Brin and Larry Page are discussing the artistic merits of your fetish photos over their catered lunches? Probably not. More likely there’s a young person in a cubicle in Manila making the “substantial public benefit” call several hundred times per hour.
Generally speaking, I believe a private company should be able to offer the services they see fit, but if your core mission, your raison d'etre is to “organize the world’s information and make it accessible”, then it seems to me you don’t get to insert yourself as a censor. You have an ethical responsibility — and perhaps even a legal responsibility — to present a complete truth, not just a “truth” as you decide it to be.
I would support the argument that Google has a responsibility to contain and prevent the spread of criminal activities, such as child pornography. But when that crosses into policing morality or censoring content that depicts legal activity between consenting adults, that strays significantly from the mission as stated. That starts to look a lot like evil.
Perhaps this is something to explore with the Federal Trade Commission? On the surface, it would appear Google has run afoul of their "truth in advertising" mandate. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds over time.